‘You can save lives:’ Officials stress social distancing measures to help avoid worst-case projections

SHA chief medical health officer Dr. Susan Shaw. SHA photo.

Saskatchewan public health officials are stressing that modelling numbers released today aren’t predictions of the future, but that the province can only avoid the direst circumstances if they follow the advice of the province’s chief medical health officer.

The modelling data shows a range of circumstances, from the least amount of spread to higher levels of transmission.

The modelling shows that on the lower end of the spectrum, 3,000 people could die from the virus in Saskatchewan, while the top end of projections indicates deaths closer to the 8,000 to 10,000 mark.

  Where Saskatchewan sits on its curve — and whether it follows those patterns, based on spread in Wuhan, China, less-affected parts of Italy and early indications in Canada — depends on residents practicing social distancing, washing their hands and staying home.

NDP leader Ryan Meili had long been calling for the data to be released. So people knew how important those public health measures were.

 “People all over the province are worried,” he said.

“I’m really glad they chose to share this information with us. If we’re going to get people to continue doing measures, people have to know what’s going on. This is what could happen, this is not what has to happen.”

He praised the officials who spoke on Wednesday and echoed their call — Saskatchewan doesn’t have to see its numbers follow the projected models.

“We don’t know where we are on this curve. Our anticipation and hour hope is that we are doing even better than this,” said Dr. Jenny Basran, Senior Medical Information Officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

“We do see from the charts that current interventions have made a difference. And that’s really a key thing to identify that the most important variable for us to save lives of our healthcare workers is really the public’s compliance with isolation measures, physical distancing, and washing your hands.”

Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, SHA Senior Medical Health Officer, had similar thoughts.

“The reality is hitting home,” she said. “We are not immune. In the weeks and months to come, we can expect to see more cases of illness and indeed more deaths.”

Kryzanowski said the province and learn from other jurisdictions. She said the numbers show how important “aggressive and sustained” public health and population health measures are in flattening the pandemic curve.

“All of these measures need to be sustained to be effective,” she said.

‘Saskatchewan is early on in its path and response to COVID-19. We need to be staying strong and healthy by caring for physical, mental social and spiritual health, to be resilient as individuals and as communities. We need to keep learning and understanding and removing barriers that are preventing people from taking necessary actions.”

Those steps to flatten the curve will mean fewer cases surge into hospitals all at once. But it could mean a longer period of hunkering down, officials admitted.

“The more you flatten the curve, the longer we stretch this out, and that’s intentional,” said SHA CEO Scott Livingstone.

“It’s so we avoid those peaks that we’ve seen across the world where health care systems are completely overwhelmed by COVID-19. Not just the COVID patients — the non-COVID patients are not receiving health care int eh same way that they should be because of (the pandemic.”

Officials took questions from reporters on Wednesday. Many questions surrounded how accurate the “what-ifs” are, and when the province will learn how long and how bad it will be.

“that’s the challenge of a model,” said Dr. Susan Shaw, the Chief Medical Health Officer with the SHA.

“We have advantages that our population is more dispersed compared to the density of a major urban centre. So we do have advantages.”

Shaw, in addition to her work as a medical health officer, works in emergency rooms in Saskatchewan.

She spoke from that experience Wednesday.

“I want to bring us back to the most important and unifying key message from all of this data,” she said.

‘The most important variable in saving lives and protecting our health care workers is your ongoing commitment to public health measures. We cannot change the virus but we can control how the virus spreads. I work regularly in intensive care units in Saskatoon, looking after some of Saskatchewan’s sickest patients. I see the worry and concern on the faces of the people I work with. We come to work anyways.

“Normally, we are here to help you and now we need you to help us. I’m asking you to continue to do what you’ve always done as Saskatchewan people and pull together in a time of need. This message is for every resident of Saskatchewan: you have the opportunity to save lives. Please take it.”